13th December, 2022

How Dust Hazards In The Workplace Can Kill Your Future

It's hard to get away from dust. We create dust in nearly everything we do. Many types of work create dust, and most people encounter dusty environments at work from time to time. If you don't control dust, it may not hurt you today, but it can kill your future.

How Dust Hazards In The Workplace Can Kill Your Future header image

Dust is one of those things that is hard to get away from. We create dust in nearly everything we do. And once dust is created, it gets everywhere!

Most people encounter dusty environments at work from time to time. In some industries - like construction, mining and manufacturing - dust can be a persistent problem.

Fine, dry powder consisting of tiny particles of earth or waste matter lying on the ground or on surfaces or carried in the air.

Oxford Dictionaries Dust

Dust can seem like a short-term problem. If you're doing dusty work it's a pain, but then it's gone again. But dust exposure isn't a short-term problem. Health problems from dust can appear years later. So if you control dust now, you can protect your future health.

Dust might be small, but it can be a big problem in any workplace.

There are two types of dust:

Nuisance Dust

Nuisance dust is just that, a nuisance. In large quantities, it can make breathing difficult, and irritate the nose and throat. It can also get in the eyes and cause visibility issues.

Generally, this type of dust makes work uncomfortable, and less safe due to its presence.

Nuisance dust is still a hazard that should be controlled. Exposure to any dust in excessive amounts can create breathing problems. A dusty workplace may also create slip hazards, clog up buttons, or block up ventilation, filters or other safety measures.

Nuisance dust hazards:

Hazardous Dust

Hazardous dust is a dust type that, if inhaled, can cause damage to health, above and beyond irritation. It has all of the same hazards as nuisance dust (listed above), plus long-term health damage.

Certain dust, such as flour dust and some wood dust, for example, are known to cause occupational asthma.

Other hazardous dust can cause fatal and debilitating illnesses when inhaled, such as cancer, including asbestos dust and silica dust.

Here are some examples of hazardous dust that can be fatal:

Dust Dangers

Dust can kill you. Maybe not today, but diseases caused by dust develop over time, and become deadly.

Recent research by the HSE estimates that silica dust is responsible for the deaths of 500 construction workers each year.

Asbestos is an even bigger killer, an estimated 5000 people die each year in the UK as a result of past asbestos exposure.

Workers exposed to wood dust are four times more likely to develop asthma, and it can also cause cancer.

wood dust

While none of these types of dust will kill you immediately, exposure today could kill you in the future. Some lung diseases, for example, asbestosis or silicosis, take years - even decades - to develop.

If you work in a dusty atmosphere, it is important to take adequate precautions to prevent dust exposure from causing you health problems. You need to protect yourself, and your future.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations cover dust, and some, such as silica dust have a workplace exposure limit (WEL). This is a legal limit for the maximum amount of dust you can be exposed to over a normal working day.

Need help complying with COSHH? Use the silica dust coshh assessment template, or keep a record of hazardous dust in your workplace with the free COSHH register form.

Asbestos is so high risk, it has its own set of regulations, the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations.

Even if you don't work with high-risk hazardous dust, dust is a problem that shouldn't be ignored. Employers must provide a safe place of work at all times, and this includes controlling dust exposure.

Controlling Dust

If you're having trouble breathing at work due to dust:

  1. Identify the type of dust
  2. Assess the risk
  3. Eliminate or control the dust creation
  4. Wear suitable PPE
  5. Undertake further training if required

Eliminate Dust

Ideally, the dust should be eliminated altogether. Getting rid of dust - when possible - is the safest option.

Where possible you should avoid risks. Eliminate the risk and you get rid of the problem. -- - The Principles Of Prevention

It may be possible to eliminate dust by doing the job a different way, or by using different equipment or materials. For example, could you order materials in the right size, ready to use? This can eliminate cutting on your sites.

Using power tools to cut, grind and drill creates high levels of dust. If materials are cut to size in a controlled manufacturing environment, with specialist extraction and dust control, it can eliminate dust in your workplace.

breaker creating concrete dust

It is not always possible to eliminate dust, so if it cannot be eliminated it should be controlled.

Extract and Contain

Dust should be controlled at the source as much as possible. It is harder to control dust once it becomes airborne. Clouds of dust can quickly spread filling the entire workplace and entering nearby areas.

Control measures such as extract ventilation, tenting the dust source to contain it, or damping down the material can be implemented to prevent dust exposure and spread.

Depending on the type of dust and hazards involved, you may need to take extra precautions. For example, with asbestos work, you must prevent asbestos dust and fibres from spreading to other areas with sealed enclosures. Specialist cleaning and decontamination will also be required.

dust enclosure


Once you have tried to control the dust at the source, any remaining dust exposure should be assessed. If you are still likely to be exposed to dust, PPE should be provided for protection.

The type of PPE required will depend on the exposure type. A face shield or dust mask may be sufficient, or a full face respirator may be necessary.

dusty task wear a mask graphic

It is important to remember that dust does not just affect the respiratory system, and depending on the type of dust you may also need to protect your eyes and skin from irritation.

Cleaning and Decontamination

Cleaning up dust can create a risk of repeat exposure. Once the dust has settled on surfaces, dry sweeping can disturb and lift the dust back into the air.

Consider vacuuming or wet brushing instead, to prevent further dust clouds.

dust cleaned up and bagged

If you are working with hazardous dust, like asbestos, you will need specialist cleaning and decontamination. Contaminated items will need to be cleaned or disposed of appropriately.

Dust Dos

Dust Don'ts:

Dust may not hurt you today, but it can kill your future. Download the dust toolbox talk and raise awareness of dust risks among your team.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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